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Wednesday 25th April 2012


PH BLOG: CLIO IS THE UNSUNG HERO

Why the Clio got more tracktime at the 'ring than the Artega, Noble or Atom


While Harris scared himself in the Noble and the Atom and I made a song and dance out of driving the Artega GT the real hero of the Destination Nurburgring trackday last month was an unassuming little grey Renault Clio. Well, not that unassuming really, paintwork aside, but compared with the rest of the cars we had there it was in danger of being overlooked.

The harder you push it the better it gets
The harder you push it the better it gets
But in fact I did a lot more laps in that car than I did anything else on the day. And it did its bit for international relations too, officially introducing An American to the world of Euro hot hatches.

I was really looking forward to driving the Artega around the Nordschleife and while it didn't intimidate anything like as much as the monsters Harris brought along it was still someone else's car and on delivery miles at that. Most importantly, however, I didn't want to look like a total numpty, this being my first visit in years.

I've spent plenty of time in hot Clios at the Nordschleife though - my 197 Cup long-termer put in a good few laps there, including this one chasing Ringside Seat man Dale Lomas a couple of years back, so when I spotted the grey Clio driven out by camera guy Neil Carey standing idle I spied an opportunist, er, opportunity. And the perfect car to get my eye in again.

Tenacious is one word that springs to mind
Tenacious is one word that springs to mind
Chris has already sung this little car's praises in his Twizy video but allow me to do the same, briefly. Having run one for six months, and put in a serious number of track miles in this time, I can safely say it's one of the best 'proper' driver's cars on the market for any price.

Truly, it's the 911 GT3 of hot hatches, a point proven by the fact that the harder you push it the better it gets. Most road cars will hang on up to a certain point and then suddenly just call time out and, dynamically, fall to pieces. Not the Clio. It'll look after you if you're finding your feet but, if you're up to it, it'll more than keep pace. It was a pleasure to reacquaint myself, both the Clio and the 'ring too.

Clio in rare stationary moment
Clio in rare stationary moment
But what did our American - Totally That Stupid's Reed Hitchcock - think of it? Reed's no stranger to European cars - or the 'ring in fact. Just ask a major car rental firm about the latter. But other than my witterings at him he'd never been in a proper hot hatch. What better than the Clio to show him what they can do!

So, the Stateside view of such cars? "I've read about so-called "hot hatches" in English magazines but frankly always sort of dismissed them as cars that wanted to be much more than they were," he says. Oh. And Renaults? "Renault left the US market in the late 1980s. The impression they left with us American car guys was of underpowered, poorly-constructed crapboxes. The very word "Renault" evokes visions of what was sold on our shores as the "LeCar" - or the R5 as it was known in Europe - in varying states of disrepair."

'Clio Elbow' especially harsh here
'Clio Elbow' especially harsh here
Time for a Clio charm offensive then. No drive this time but the view from the passenger seat? "My first thought was that Renault has come a long way in the last 25 years! 130+ miles per hour in the straightaway after the gantry was impressive! Moreover, the overall quality of the car tells the story of a well-engineered performance car conceived and manufactured by car enthusiasts. This was most certainly not your Grandpere's Renault!"

Are hot hatches ever going to catch on in the states then? "Right now, the closest things we have to cars like the Clio are the fun but tubby Golf GTI, the Scooby Impreza, the Mini Cooper, and the Mitsubishi Evo - cars that all score very highly in the American motoring press, but in reality serve niche markets among young, upward car enthusiasts who live where the roads actually curve, or who think they're 'cute.'"

The GT3 of hot hatches, reckons Dan
The GT3 of hot hatches, reckons Dan
And in the meantime Reed's hoping sales of Fiat 500s and Minis go well enough to convince a few more European hot hatches to jump the pond "so I can have a chance to drive cars like the Clio on my own favourite back roads!"

Dan

 

Track pics by Frozenspeed

Author: Dan Trent